Chabad rabbi becomes second bearded officer in US Air Force history

Rabbi Estrin celebrates a new landmark a year-and-a-half after becoming the US Air Force's first bearded chaplain following the lifting of a ban on displays of religious belief.

Rabbi Elie Estrin (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rabbi Elie Estrin
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In 2014 Rabbi Elie Estrin became the first bearded chaplain in the US Air Force, and this week he celebrated a new landmark as he upgraded to the post of the Air Force's second bearded officer in its history.
Rabbi Michell Geller became the first bearded officer in the US Air Force after winning a lawsuit against the Defense Department in 1976.
Rabbi Estrin is, together with his wife Chaya, the co-director of the Rohr Chabad House for Jewish Life at the University of Washington in Seattle. He graduated on Monday from Officer Training School at the Maxwell Air Force base in Montgomery, Alabama.
In January of 2014, the military ban on wearing a beard and other such displays of religious belief, was lifted by the Pentagon, paving the way for Rabbi Estrin to join the military chaplaincy.
During the five week Commissioned Officer Training Course, Rabbi Estrin ate Kosher MRE’s (ready-to-eat meals) and said that staff were fantastic about facilitating his required accommodations, some of which included his adherence to Shabbat and the 25 hour fast of Tisha Be’av, a day which commemorates the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem.
Estrin, 35, and father of five, described his work for the armed services as “a logical extension of his existing service to the Jewish community”.
In his 11 years serving the Jewish student community at the University of Washington, Estrin notes that out of the many students with whom he and his wife had a close rapport with, more than a dozen had gone on to join the military. After speaking with an alumnus who had served with the US Army Rangers, Estrin became convinced that chaplaincy was an ideal fit.
Estrin said, “The AF leadership training was exceptional, and I believe it will assist me in my work both on campus and as an Air Force chaplain. I'm looking forward to getting back to work and applying it all in the real world.”